The Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Process Explained

This blog is full of articles examining every aspect of the Michigan license appeal process. It is difficult enough to boil down a discussion of any one part of driver’s license restoration cases into a single article. In this article, we’re going to be even more ambitious, and try to do a short but complete overview of the entire Michigan license appeal process in one shot. In other words, we’re going to skip the detailed analysis and take a step back and look at the whole, big picture.

A lawyer explains the Michigan license appeal processOf course, a person must first be eligible to file a license restoration or clearance appeal case. To be clear, we’re talking about people who’ve been revoked for 2 or more DUI’s and/or drugged driving convictions. As a starting point, it is important to understand that these revocations are for life. This means that no matter how long a person waits, his or her driving privileges will stay revoked until he or she files – and wins – a formal driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal.

Technically, a person who racks up 2 DUI’s in 7 years can file a license appeal after 1 year. In practice, however, anyone with 2 DUI convictions in 7 years is going to have to wait much closer to 3 or more years to have any realistic chance of winning his or her case. Someone who racks up 3 DUI’s within 10 years must wait until 5 years have passed before he or she can file. Thus, if Dave the drinker gets a DUI in 2007, another in 2009, another in 2010, and then another in 2018, his “3 within 10” will make him ineligible to file until sometime in 2023.

There are really 2 sides to the Michigan license appeal process: The way things are set out within the rules, and the way they actually work in the real world. Given those realities, our firm will generally not move forward with any case until a person has at least 18 months of sobriety. In addition, he or she generally must show that the majority of that clean time has occurred after being released from probation. Many people spend 2 years on probation for a 2nd offense DUI. This is why I noted most will need to wait 3 or more years before having any realistic chance of winning a license appeal.

Beyond the time factor, the absolute key to the Michigan license appeal process is proving one’s sobriety. A person must show, by what the law specifically defines as “clear and convincing evidence,” that he or she has completely quit drinking (and using any and all other substances, including – and especially recreational marijuana), and that he or she has both the ability and commitment to NEVER drink or get high again – ever.

Without a doubt, the issue of sobriety is the biggest obstacle for most people. My team and I get tons of inquiries from people who tell us that it’s been many years since they last got in trouble, and that they need to be able to drive again. It then falls to us to explain that the entire focus of the Michigan license appeal process is on 2 main things:

First, that he or she has been completely abstinent from alcohol and all other substances for a “legally sufficient” period of time (someone with 5 or 6 DUI’s will need more clean time than someone with only 2 prior drunk driving convictions), and,

Second, that the person has what it takes, and otherwise wants to remain clean and sober for life.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get this, and will go on to tell us things like “Well, I don’t drink like I used to,” “I only have a beer every once in a while,” or “I just have the occasional glass of wine with dinner.”

None of that will fly. This is so important, it’s worth repeating:

The entire focus of the Michigan license appeal process is that a person must prove he or she has quit drinking and using any other substances for good. If the Secretary of State so much as suspects that a person even thinks he or she can ever drink again, then his or her case will be denied.

It must be, because the written law provides as follows:

The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:

i.   That the petitioner’s alcohol or substance abuse problems, if any, are under control and likely to remain under control.

ii.  That the risk of the petitioner repeating his or her past abusive behavior is a low or minimal risk.

iii. That the risk of the petitioner repeating the act of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by, or under the influence of, alcohol or controlled substances or a combination of alcohol and a controlled substance or repeating any other offense listed in section 303(1)(d), (e), or (f) or (2)(c), (d), (e), or (f) of the act is a low or minimal risk.

iv.  That the petitioner has the ability and motivation to drive safely and within the law.

v.   Other showings that are relevant to the issues identified in paragraphs (i) to (iv) of this subdivision.

As the rule makes clear from the very beginning, this means that the hearing officer is required, by law to start out with “no” as the answer to every license restoration case. He or she can only grant an appeal if the person proves certain things by what it specifies as “clear and convincing evidence.” In terms of the evidence a person submits, that essentially means that he or she has to hit a home run.

In other words, you cannot win a license appeal unless you rreally crush it.

Specifically, the 2 things that must always be proven (we hinted at these above) to win a license appeal, are:

1. That the person’s alcohol and/or substance abuse problems are under control, and

2. That those problems are likely to remain under control.

Translated into plain English, this means a person must prove that:

1. He or she has been completely abstinent from alcohol and all other substances for the legally sufficient period of time, and

2. He or she has the tools and intention to remain completely alcohol and substance-free for life.

Here’s why that specific language is used: Under Michigan law, anyone who racks up 2 DUI’s within 7 years or 3 DUI’s within 10 years is categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender.” As a consequence of that, he or she is legally presumed to have an alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem. This means it is assumed, from the get-go, that anyone who has to file a license appeal has some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol and/or other substances.

This does NOT mean that the law presumes the person is necessarily some kind of raging alcoholic who wakes up with the shakes every morning. Instead, it simply means that he or she is a demonstrated risk when it comes to drinking and driving. The Michigan license appeal process, as legally structured, requires that the Secretary of State ONLY restore driving privileges to those people who can show they have been completely clean and sober and are likely to never drink or use any drugs again – including recreational marijuana.

The guiding principle at play here is that people who don’t drink are exactly zero risk to drive drunk. That’s the safe bet, and it’s the only one the law allows the Secretary of State to take Thus, the whole Michigan license appeal process is about making sure that these are the only people ever put back on the road.

Now, with that background, let’s turn our attention to the steps in the Michigan license appeal process itself:

A driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal case is begun by filing certain required documents. Specifically, a person must file a completed substance use evaluation (SUE) and at least 3 letters of support that attest to his or her sobriety. In practice, some hearing officers prefer as many as 10 letters of support. Our office will never file a case with less than 4, in case 1 has to be disqualified for some reason or other.

The substance use evaluation is really the foundation of a license appeal. It is so important that our firm – which guarantees to win every license appeal case we take – will only send our clients to 1 of our 2 main evaluators. These counselors have worked closely with us for years, and know everything about doing substance use evaluations for license appeal cases. That’s key, because to be helpful, the evaluator needs to comprehensively understand the Michigan license appeal process. The hearing officers who decide these cases want very specific information, and the failure to provide it will result in a case that’s denied.

An evaluator can only learn how to do a proper evaluation through direct, one-on-one work with lawyers, like us, who concentrate their practice in license restoration and clearance cases. We handle about 200 license matters per year. Few lawyers will ever handle anywhere near a fraction that in a whole career. That means we are able to work with our evaluators based upon the experience of having handled thousands and thousands of driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal cases.

A lot of our clients are people who have previously tried and lost either a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, or who hired some lawyer who claimed to “do” them, and obviously didn’t guarantee his or her work, like we do. This has provided us with a wealth of opportunities to learn by other people’s mistakes.

In that regard, one of the biggest screw ups we encounter is someone having plowed ahead with an insufficient substance use evaluation. In order to support a winning case, the SUE has to be water-tight.

Our firm makes sure that any evaluation we file is accurate, legally sufficient, and otherwise “water-tight.”

The Michigan license appeal process also requires that a person file letters of support. This is a deep subject in its own right, so we’ll keep it short here. At our first meeting with a new client, we explain what the letters need to cover, what they should NOT get into, and then provide an example (template) for them to give to their letter-writers. More important, we instruct our clients to have all the letters written in draft form so that we can correct and edit them.

In practice, we substantially edit OVER 99% all letters before sending them back to be finalized.

To be clear, this isn’t a matter of grammar, but rather content. For example, there is NOTHING helpful about including in a letter that someone “needs” his or her license. As one hearing officer puts it, “everybody needs a license.” The question that must be decided, however, is whether the person meet the criteria specified in the law, and a support letter must demonstrate that. Remember, the whole point of the Michigan license appeal process is to make sure that those are the only people who are put back on the road.

Once everything has been filed, we wait for a hearing date. The case will be randomly assigned to 1 of the 9 hearing officers in the State of Michigan. The hearing is important, and so, therefore, is properly preparing for it. To be sure, all of the hearing officer are going to have a core group of the same questions that important.

However, each hearing officer also brings his or her own specific areas of interest, as well. What will fly with one of them can be a complete deal-killer with another. Anyone who doesn’t know what those things are and prepare for them is essentially flying blind.

We have to be conscious of this from the get-go. In order to properly handle a license restoration or clearance case, we have to keep in mind that it could be assigned to any of the 9 hearing officers. It won’t do any good to work up a case that is good enough to win with 8 of them, but that will be denied if it gets assigned to #9.

Especially if it does get assigned to #9….

Thus, we have to make sure every case is ready for any and all of those 9.

The hearing itself is a big deal. The hearing officer may ask questions directly, or instruct the lawyer to do so. Often, the hearings are a combination of both questions from the hearing officer and the lawyer. That, of course, makes it important to know what particular things are of interest to the hearing officer assigned to your case.

It really boils down to this: If you can’t look at the name of your hearing officer and know, in advance, how the hearing will unfold and what questions he or she will ask (and/or expects the lawyer to ask), then you’re not prepared.

To make sure we get this right, my team and I have a separate “prep session” with each client the day before his or her hearing. This way, the information we go over is fresh in our client’s mind when he or she is sworn in to testify the next day.

It’s often the next part of the Michigan license appeal process that baffles people: Winning.

There are essentially 2 kinds of successful results to a winning license appeal case:

Non-residents, meaning those who no longer live here, are awarded a clearance, which removes the Michigan hold on their driving record, allowing them to get a license in their home state. Usually, that’s a full license, with no restrictions of any kind.

People who live in Michigan always start out with a restricted license and an interlock for the first year. Super technically, the hearing officer can grant full driving privileges, but that rarely happens. The bottom line is that if you live in Michigan and win your license restoration case, you are going to be given a restricted license and put on an interlock for 1 year – period.

After that year, you are then eligible to file another appeal for full driving privileges. Getting a full license does NOT happen automatically, and it never happens on its own. In other words, a person can drive on the restricted and with the interlock for 40 years, but still needs to file another formal license appeal in order to get off the interlock and have full, unrestricted driving privileges.

Whatever anyone thinks about it, the Michigan license appeal process is what it is. It doesn’t matter how much anyone may or may not like it. There is no way to circumvent any of it, either – not even by “going to court.” While my team and I do understand why people can become frustrated, a person just has to accept that this is part of the overall cost of getting one’s license back after having it yanked for multiple DUI’s.

As I pointed out at the beginning, every single step in the Michigan license appeal process could warrant its own article. Those steps include the initial screening my team and I do with every potential client, the first meeting with him or her, the substance use evaluation, the letters of support, the “prep session” before the hearing, the hearing itself, the clearance for non-residents, the restricted license with interlock for Michiganders for 1 year, and the process of obtaining full driving privileges for them after that year.

However, as a short summary of the process as a whole, what we’ve gone over here at least briefly covers those steps. For the reader interested in learning more, dig around in this blog. It is a great resource for useful information about the Michigan license appeal process. It is fully searchable and updated weekly with a new, original article. To-date, I have written and published more than 680 articles in the driver’s license restoration section. With a little scrolling, you can find the answer to just about any question you could ever have.

If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license or obtain a clearance of the state’s hold on your driving record, be a smart consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers break down the license appeal process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.

After you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person, and that’s what you’ll get if you call our office. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. We NEVER pressure anyone to hire us, and openly suggest you compare lawyers before making your decision.

My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer any and all of your questions and explain the entire Michigan license appeal process in as much detail as you’d like. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.

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